Breaking news from the National Catholic Reporter is that Bishop Martino is stepping down. Thankfully, on this side of the Atlantic I have not had to worry too much about him, but even so I was immediately able to recognise his name in the headline, and to respond, “Good News!”. A few quotes from the NCR clearly show why:
“Bishop Joseph F. Martino will resign as head of the Diocese of Scranton, Pa., as early as next week, according to sources within the diocese, it was reported today by several outlets in the Scranton area.
The 63-year-old Martino’s six-year-tenure has been distinctive for an almost non-stop round of battles with Catholic academics, Catholic teachers’ union, Catholic politicians and a range of other groups, including his own peers among the Catholic hierarchy.
Martino, highly regarded by the Catholic right for his rigid anti-abortion stance and repeated condemnations of President Obama and other pro-choice politicians, once famously arrived unannounced at a discussion in a parish of a document on political responsibility that had been passed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and declared: “No USCCB document is relevant in this diocese. The USCCB doesn’t speak for me.” He told the assembled crowd that “The only relevant document … is my letter,” referring to a letter on politics he had mandated be read at all masses on a given Sunday. “There is one teacher in this diocese, and these points are not debatable.”
This is very far from the ideas of Vatican II collegiality, or of a listening church. Rather, these attitudes epitomise the fundamental problem in the church today, a certainty in some quarters of their own infallibility, an insistence on top-down decision making and rigid control:
He has battled with officials at Misericordia University, a Catholic college in the diocese, for hosting author Keith Boykin, a gay rights advocate, and sought to close down the institution’s program on diversity.
In February, Martino sent a letter to the leaders of three Irish-American organizations threatening to close the cathedral during St. Patrick’s Day celebrations if he groups “honor pro-abortion officials” by inviting them to speak or otherwise be honored during events in which the church might be involved.
Ultimately the mass was held, but not before he again threatened to shut down the mass if members of the local Catholic teachers’ union were invited to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Martino has refused to recognize the union.
The intriguing question which immediately came to my mind was helpfully articulated in a readers’ comment:
The Bishop is 63 and otherwise in good health. What are the reasons behing his sudden resignation? Might it be his obstinacy and authoritarianism which are a scandal to the Church? Why are diocesan officials silent about this?
Why, indeed? But then, the immediate cause scarcely matters. The removal from direct power of one who has so abused it, cannot but be of immedite benefit to progressive Catholicism